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Tooth Talk

by Dr. T.J. Scarborough, DDS
| February 11, 2021 2:53 PM

The mouth is the gateway to the body. Nearly everything introduced into the body comes through the mouth, nose, and throat. This includes hundreds or thousands of bacteria, fungi, viruses, chemicals, and other potential threats. Many of the ill effects of poor oral health are obvious. Diseased teeth and gums can be painful. Loose or missing teeth negatively impact one's ability to chew, which leads to decreased nutrition and reduced physical health. Additionally, missing teeth or mouth pain leads to a decrease in social, psychological and economic well-being. Infections in the mouth can be dangerous. Infectious material and toxins can spread to other parts of the body, and in some instances can lead to serious complications or death.

It is reported that Hippocrates extracted diseased teeth and was able to heal many sick individuals ailing in other parts of their body, in so doing. However, for many decades and centuries, the connection between oral health and the health of the body has not been well understood. That has rapidly been changing in our modern times. There is no question that a healthy mouth is vital to a healthy body. Strong scientific evidence supports a link between oral disease and other diseases of the body. Some of these systemic diseases include diabetes, disease of the vessels, diseases of the lungs, kidney disease, and issues with pregnancy and birth weight.

The mouth harbors hundreds of bacteria, viruses, and even fungi. In a healthy oral environment, these bodies are kept in balance and tend to harbor favorable organisms. However, in an unhealthy mouth, the organisms become unbalanced. For example, healthy bacteria in the mouth can keep fungi in check. If the healthy bacteria is disrupted, fungal infections, such as thrush, can occur. A very common disease is called periodontitis, often erroneously referred to as gum disease.

Periodontitis is actually a disease of the gums, fibers, bone, and other structures that support the teeth. In most cases, periodontitis demonstrates a change in the bacteria in the mouth. Healthy bacteria are overrun by destructive bacteria. These bacteria produce potent toxins that cause bad breath, inflammation, sensitivity or pain, redness, swelling, and loss of bone. Left unchecked, tooth loss often results as the disease attacks the ligaments and bone of the jaws

Another very common disease is dental caries, tooth decay, or otherwise simply known as “cavities”. In fact, dental caries is the number one childhood disease in America. Dental decay is caused from bacteria left unchecked. Certain bacteria in the mouth thrive on sugar. These bacteria eat the sugar, and then excrete waste in the form of acid. This acid dissolves the mineral structure of the tooth, creating holes. These holes harbor more bacteria which thrive in the acidic environment. It is difficult or impossible to clean the bacteria out of these holes the acid created. As the bacteria and acid work their way through the enamel, it reaches the mineral layer underneath known as dentin. Dentin is loaded with tubes that lead right to the nerve, artery and vein found inside each tooth. If the bacteria gets through the tubes and into the chamber housing the nerve, the tooth can become inflamed, die, or become infected. Pain sometimes occurs with this. Once a hole is opened into the center of the tooth, all the bacteria in the mouth can travel up the middle of the tooth roots and into the bone. If infection continues, it can lead to more serious complications such as abscesses, cysts, growths, and spreading of the bacteria and toxins to the brain, heart, lungs, and other parts of the body.

It’s in this condition that the connection between the mouth and body becomes more complicated and serious. Inflammation of the teeth, gums, and jaws cause levels of certain chemicals related to inflammation to course throughout the body. Many diseases, such as heart and other diseases result from inflammatory processes. Chronic inflammation of the mouth has been linked to these other diseases, as studies show, for example, that those suffering from heart disease have increased incidences of periodontal or other oral diseases. Pregnant mothers, as another example, who suffer from periodontal disease show a 7.5 times greater rate of low birth weight than those without the disease.

Some systemic diseases are bidirectional with the mouth. The most common is diabetes. Diabetes inhibits the body’s response to heal, making the mouth more susceptible to infections. Inflammation in the mouth, such as periodontitis, makes controlling blood sugars more difficult. Both negatively impact each other. This relationship is an important example for good oral care.

Performing thorough daily oral hygiene (brushing, flossing, etc), eating a proper diet and avoiding frequent sugar intake, as well as having regular checkups with your dentist and hygienist will help ensure that excellent oral health becomes a reality. Many believe a healthy mouth is out of reach, unimportant, or unnecessary. Not so. The mouth and body are inseparably linked and science has only scratched the surface on its connections. A regular check-up helps identify problem areas that can be focused on at home, helps care for those areas needing professional attention, and keeps conditions from worsening or becoming hopeless. Together with excellent home care, not only the mouth, but the entire body and mind become healthier.

Next week brings a look into the incredible technologies and techniques available in this miraculous age of dentistry and oral health.